Category Archives: 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: This might encourage some of you to write down your memories and send them in to email@example.com for publication in the Ram’s Horn.
My memories of the Butte Jewish Community and how it came to be
This story must begin in Russia from where my ancestors came. We were serfs in that hate filled land. The Ehrlichs, like other Jews, were permitted to build a small hovel in a shtetl. The home had to be of wood… so it could be burned from time to time at the whim of the landowner, the Cossacks, or the Czar; most had a dirt floor. Serfdom was like slavery; you could grow or produce whatever you want, but everything that you produce belonged to the landowner who permitted your existence so long as he felt like it. One common rule was the requirement that a Jewish girl could be married only after she spent the night in the landowner’s house. Jews countered by sending the girl as unattractive as possible, head shaven, dirty and wearing old clothes; hoping that she would be sent back home unviolated. The bride would then appear at her wedding wearing a wig; and henceforth all her married life. This custom is still followed in many orthodox communities to this day; although many do not know the origin of the tradition. Protective embarrassment or ignorance?
Meyer Ehrlich wanted to marry Rachel Feldman and asked his father (whose name I don’t know) to talk to Rachel’s father to help arrange it. Rachel, however, had an older sister, Leah. David Feldman, the girl’s father, made it clear that the older daughter must marry first, and Meyer agreed to marry Leah. Yes, this sounds like the biblical story of our ancestors. Deviousness seems to be an Ehrlich trait.
Meyer and Leah saved enough money so that they were able to hop the train immediately after the wedding and head for America. They left from a German port, steerage class, and arrived in New York in 1895. They lived in Patterson, N.J. and produced the first two of eight children: Rose and Dave (my father). Meyer had heard land in America could still be had for free (the Homestead Act) and he wanted to be a landowner. He clearly thought the glories and status of the Russian landowner would also apply in America. He and Leah moved to Denver and applied. Meyer was a skillful tailor and supported his growing family while awaiting response from the government. Meyer soon learned that the best homestead plots had been taken, but he had the choice of three and he traveled to inspect them, and accepted a grant in northern Idaho near Plummer junction (a few miles down the lake from Coeur d’ Alene).
Life was difficult on the homestead, the land was only suitable as a tree farm, and within a year or two Leah took the younger kids and went to Butte where she had a relative. Meyer and the older kids stayed on to fulfill the requirements to gain ownership of the land. They all moved to Butte by 1915.
During the time on the homestead the Ehrlichs had very good relations with the Kootnai Indians; and they were “visited” by a representative of the Catholic Mission at Cataldo, whom they sent away such that he did not return. The Catholics of course were on mission to convert mainly the Indians, but Jews souls as well were targeted. The Indians still remember and resent loss of their culture and language in the Catholic schools. To this day the Indian tribes and members specifically go to Jewish lawyers when they need representation.
Meyer and Leah had eight children between 1896 and 1914: Rose, Dave, Herman, Lou, Marion, Mitch, Freda, and Joe. Dave worked for the Milwaukee RR and, along with Meyer’s meager earnings, financed the education of the younger brothers and sisters, who also worked odd jobs as they could. Usually Dave was working two jobs at a time, sometimes three. Dave completed seventh grade but did not go to any higher education, unlike all the other kids, other than Joe who was not capable. Rose and Marion became teachers and moved out to the Seattle area.
Jobs were hard to find during the depression. Dave got Herman a fireman’s job on the Milwaukee running from Harlowtown MT to Aberdeen, S.D. He would overnight in Aberdeen and work the train back west the next day. He got to know the town and learned of a jewelry store available. Herman had attended Bradley Horological School (watch and clock making and repairing) and was able to buy the jewelry and watch store in Aberdeen, S.D. Lou became a pharmacist and owned Henry’s Pharmacy on West Granite St. in Butte, and Mitch became a dentist and had a practice in the Medical Arts Building at Park and Main in Butte.
In the 1930’s there was tremendous antisemitism worldwide. Butte was no exception. One day antisemetic posters appeared all over town blaming the Jews for killing Jesus and making matzos with blood from Christian children, and all sorts of problems. The Jewish community had a special meeting in the Temple to discuss it. Nobody knew what to do and all were scared. Dave noticed the printer’s mark on the bottom of many of the posters which identified the print shop in Three Forks. He said he knew the owner because he used to work with him on the railroad. He got Mitch, Herman, and Lou to drive over to Three Forks in Mitch’s car, where Dave went in and spoke to the owner while “the boys” waited in the car outside. The printer said the order and the money for the antisemetic posters came from Senator Rankin’s office! He became very apologetic and said he wouldn’t be doing any more similar orders.
Jeanette Rankin was the daughter of a pharmacist in Virginia City. In fact her father’s old drug store is still a tourist attraction there. She had been elected to the Senate in time to vote against US participation in WWI; and she was in the Senate at the time of Pearl Harbor and cast the only “no” vote to the declaration of war against Germany and Japan (WWII). She was a notable antisemite and had many supporters in Butte.
One of those supporters was Monsignor English; a big higher-up in the Catholic Church. English was famous for his Sunday sermons at mass blaming the Jews for killing Jesus and such. Parishoners of his Sacred Heart Church frequently came to Mitch’s office or Lou’s store and described the antisemitism, but said they could do nothing about it. So when you hear the claims of Butte’s open-mindedness and how everybody got along with good feelings, you should know nonsense is being put out before you.
Most of the Jewish men in town were members of B’Nai Brith. In 1936 they hosted the BB national convention at the Finlen Hotel in Butte. The leaders were Billy Meyer, (lawyer) and of course his son Sig Meyer (lawyer), Avron Canty (clothing) and his father, Sig Newman and Mel Rafish (shoes), Sammy Finberg (furniture), Kalman Rudolph (furniture), Henry Coddon (wholesale paper), Emil and Ed Marans (womens wear), and of course the Ehrlich boys, also Harry Gronfein and his son Stanley (mens clothing), and Dave Schultz, (clothing), and others. Phil Judd (sporting goods and hardware), also Dr. Sam Rafish, the other Jewish dentist in Montana. Everyone said it was the finest event ever. Jews were almost always shopkeepers.
Butte hit it bigtime after the 1905 World’s Fair in Chicago, which demonstrated the electric light for the first time. Suddenly copper was in high demand for electrification, even though this was somewhat held back by the demands of WWI and the depression years. Since the completion of electrification by means of copper wire in the 1950’s, copper demand plateaued, and with the development of fiberoptics and satellite communication it has plummeted. Butte’s mines closed in the 1960’s and the pit which replaced them has also ceased operations. Butte’s Jewish population has moved on to other locales.
During the Second World War (1939-1945), my father Dave worked the railroad terminal without a day off. He was on call 24 hours a day. He often would return to meet a train at two in the morning. He always walked the 7 or so blocks on his wooden prosthetic leg, He didn’t have a car until the mid 1950’s. My mother stayed home and had insomnia. Often she would want to walk uptown (she never drove) at odd hours of the night, and she’d take me with her, especially if the weather was nice. Many stores were open 24 hours because the mines were always running 24 hrs/day and people were always walking the streets. Usually I’d get an ice cream or some candy. There was never concern about being bothered on the street; everybody was extremely polite. “Yes ma’am”, “good evening sir”, and a tip of the hat greeting was almost universal. There was almost never any kind of theft or break-in, even among this population of tough miners. The reason was that nearly every home was well stocked with hunting rifles, shotguns and handguns. Every shopkeeper dealt heavily in cash, often silver dollars, and had a weapon. Everybody knew that many women had a weapon in their purse or elsewhere. Politeness was the norm.
I had a very good half-Jewish friend named Jack Rosenberg. They owned Rosenberg’s furniture and appliance. The Rosenberg’s like many people heated their home with wood and had a woodpile in their yard. One day I was over there and Jack’s father gave us a 12 gauge shotgun shell and a brace and bit and said somebody has been stealing from his firewood pile. He told us to drill a hole in a piece of firewood and drop the shell down inside and conceal the hole by mixing some glue and sawdust and filling the hole with it. We placed the fixed firewood piece in a prominent place. A few days later Jack’s dad said a neighbor from down the street was “in today and bought a new stove” for his parlor. We knew what that meant.
My first few years of grade school I walked from our house on Main St to the Monroe school in east Butte, near Utah St. I walked thru the gas works and past St. Joe’s (the catholic) school. Of course I knew many of the kids there and they knew I was a Jew. Almost every day they’d throw rocks or snowballs at me. Being outnumbered I usually had to just run the gauntlet. Occasionally there’d be only one or two of them and I could get a punch in before running; or if I was with another kid (non-catholic) or two from Monroe school I was golden. Then we’d have a mass snowball or rockfight-depending on the season. My public school friends then were Bobby Vawter, Joe Holly whose family owned the Supreme Market where we did all our grocery shopping, and Nicky and Jimmy Malkovich, and Chico Kovic. Some of these kids were catholic but went to the public school. Billy Edwards was catholic but he was my friend because his grandmother Mrs. Silver was a friend of my grandmother (Leah) and they always were trading baked goods.
Butte always had the image of rough and ready. Hard drinking and hard fighting. This started with the underground wars of the copper kings but extended to the streets and schoolyards. (It continues today with Bob Robinson… the navy seal who killed Osama Bin Laden.) Growing up in the 1950’s I remember schoolyard fistfights nearly every recess and dismissal, although I can’t remember the reason for any. It was common for a kid to go home bloodied and come to school the next day as though nothing had happened. Nobody ever carried a grudge. I do not remember of any kid bringing a weapon to school. Fair fighting fists only.
And we had easy and common access to guns of all kinds. I myself went with my friend Bobby Vawter on our bikes to shoot rabbits at Big Butte, (the mountain south of the city). Each of us with a 22 rifle strapped over the shoulder. Bobby was not Jewish, would take the rabbits home and his mother would skin and cook them. My mother, of course, would not touch them.
The community was pretty observant in the old days. On Pesach there would be a community seder at the Finlen. The ladies would make all the foods and bring them for everybody to share and afterward talk about. “The kneidlach Mrs. so-and-so made were so hard you’d need a nutcracker”; “that soup was so greasy it could go into the crankcase”; and similar comments.
Nobody made outdoor sukkot but each year an arch was erected over the bima inside the Temple and decorated with greenery and fruits. Talesim and kippot were never worn. Services were Friday nite only with emphasis to be finished in time to get to the high school stadium for kickoff. I don’t remember any Saturday religious events; everybody worked in their stores.
Butte’s Jewish community was pretty observant in the ’40’s and even into the ’50’s, but as the population dwindled the Judaism observance did as well. The orthodox synagogue closed up and became members of the Reform Temple. The quality of the employed rabbis deteriorated too: One was known to the police for unusual sexual interests and let go. He was replaced by “Rabbi Benjamin Kelson” who tutored me for my Bar Mitzvah. It was discovered later that he did hnot actually have “smicha” (ordination).
Soon the community gave up employing a rabbi and relied on bringing in rabinical students for major functions. I believe that now the Temple stands empty nearly all the time and is rarely opened any more. About a year ago I was in Butte with my son Daniel, who is an orthodox rabbi, (with smicha!) and he offered to conduct a proper Shabbat observance for the community, at no charge. We were bluntly discouraged and told “people have other plans”.
I think that describes the rise and fall of Butte’s Jewish community.
Fred Ehrlich; May 2019
Missoula Mishkan Milestone RESCHEDULED
October 18, 19, and 20
Our wiser angels emerged to recommend that we reschedule our Shabbaton for Fall so that Rabbi Laurie can have the necessary recovery time for her health challenges. We are VERY excited to announce a new set of dates: October 18, 19, and 20, the last three days of Sukkot! So, we hope you will revise your plans and join us then.
We are thrilled to further develop the new research for “Missoula’s Jewish Treasures”, a groundbreaking exhibit of the Jewish history of Missoula, as well as offer inspiring worship, learning, and an elegant Motzi Shabbat evening of Jazz. We look forward to celebrating with you in October!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the Rabbi who led Dawn Schandelson’s funeral service.
Congregation Beth Shalom of Bozeman, Montana is proud to announce that Rabbi Mark Hayim Kula will join the Beth Shalom community as rabbi beginning July 1. Rabbi Kula comes to Congregation Beth Shalom with a wealth of warmth, enthusiasm, and experience, having served as a rabbi and cantor in Miami, Florida for 30 years.
“I am honored and delighted to join the Congregation Beth Shalom family and Bozeman community,” Rabbi Kula wrote in a letter to the community. “These are exciting and challenging times. Let us take care of ourselves and others, nurture our relationships, and tap into profound Jewish wisdom. We will then surely thrive and be blessed.” Amber Ikeman, Beth Shalom’s Program Director and Cantorial Soloist, will work closely with Rabbi Kula to serve the Jewish community in Bozeman and the surrounding area.
Rabbi Kula was ordained as a rabbi by The Rabbinical Academy of New York in 2012, and as a cantor by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1986. He has extensive experience as a spiritual leader and Jewish educator, having served at Bet Shira Congregation in Miami, Florida for 30 years, first as cantor and then as rabbi. Most recently, Rabbi Kula has been enjoying a year living in Missoula with his family.
According to Sara Schwerin, president of the board at Congregation Beth Shalom, “We have seen a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and engagement from our community over the past 18 months, as we searched for the right person to lead Beth Shalom. Our entire community is looking forward to the energy, kindness, leadership and spiritual guidance that Rabbi Kula offers. We could not be happier about the leadership team that we have put in place to guide us into the future.”
In June 2018, Beth Shalom Rabbi Ed Stafman retired after ten years of service. Since then, Beth Shalom has enjoyed monthly visits from Rabbi Michael Lotker, who will continue to serve as Beth Shalom’s part-time interim rabbi until Rabbi Kula’s July 1, 2019 start date. Beth Shalom wishes to thank Rabbi Michael Lotker for providing such wonderful leadership over the past year, and for helping to ensure a smooth transition for the community. Beth Shalom also wishes to thank Rabbi Emeritus Ed Stafman for his continued connection to Beth Shalom and his leadership in the greater Bozeman community.
Please join Congregation Beth Shalom two Fridays each month at 6 p.m. for Shabbat services and each Saturday morning for Torah Study at 9:30 a.m. Rabbi Kula, Rabbi Lotker and Rabbi Emeritus Stafman will be joining us for a special celebration of Shavuot on Saturday, June 8; please check our website for details closer to the date.
All are welcome to join Congregation Beth Shalom in worship, learning and social action. Please contact the Temple office at (406) 556-0528, check us out on Facebook “Congregation Beth Shalom – Bozeman, Montana” or visit our website http://www.bethshalombozeman.org to learn more.
Congregation Beth Shalom is a place where members of all ages come together to be a learning and spiritual community joyfully praying together and celebrating Jewish history and tradition. Founded in 1994, and serving the greater Yellowstone community, Congregation Beth Shalom of Bozeman is the largest Jewish congregation in Montana.
Compiled by Aitz Chaim over many years, this list is maintained by the Ram’s Horn. Please send any corrections or additions to firstname.lastname@example.org
May the source of peace send peace to all who mourn, and may we be a comfort to all who are bereaved.
This is a reminder about the lay services led by Devorah Werner ON the first Friday of the month, May 3, at 6:00 P.M. at the Bethel, with a milchig (dairy) potluck to follow.
Hope to see you there.
The address for the Bethel is 1009 18th Avenue Southwest. click here for map and directions.
Please remember that the Aitz chaim Community Seder is this Friday, April 26, at 5:30 P.M., in the basement of the O’Haire Motor Inn, 17 7th Street South, in Great Falls.
Please have your reservations in by this week end, as we will need to have a count to the caterer by Monday, April 22.
For reservations or inquiries, e-mail Laura at
Send your payment to:
Congregation Aitz Chaim
C/O Wendy Weissman, CPA
525 Central Avenue, Suite L8
Great Falls, MT 59401-3271
Looking forward to seeing you there.
Next year in Jerusalem, but if not, the O’Haire Motor Inn!
Submitted by Brian Schnitzer, MAJCo
FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Born Half Jewish, I Chose to Be Wholly So
My journey began when my Catholic mother joined the local synagogue.
April 18, 2019 7:25 p.m. ET
On Friday night Jews around the world will recite the Passover haggadah, a celebration of the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt and an opportunity to reflect on identity. Children will sing the “four questions,” beginning with, “Why is tonight different from all other nights?” As my own children ask their questions, I remember the ones I grappled with decades ago.
“It never occurred to me that I was creating a conflict,” my mother told me recently. “One day, when you were 5, I saw you standing in front of a mirror. You said to me, ‘I know I am half Jewish and half German, I just don’t know which half is which.’ ”
Shortly thereafter, my German Catholic mom insisted that our family join the local Reform synagogue. She no longer believed in God, but she missed the community, music and holidays of her Catholic childhood. “Besides,” she told my American Jewish atheist father, “Joshua has a right to be exposed to Judaism. It is half of his heritage.”
After high school, my dad encouraged me to take a year off before attending college. He suggested volunteering on a kibbutz, an Israeli agricultural commune, which sounded adventurous enough. At my first job in the communal dining room, I met Jews who had fled Germany for Palestine in the 1930s. Many of their families had a formal, diluted Jewish identity but yearned for something more passionate and moved to help build a new home for their people.
It was the first time I had met people for whom Judaism was more than a heritage, for whom identity was worth making sacrifices. Many were disappointed to learn that I planned to return to Canada. I thought of the year in Israel as an experience; they assumed I had come home.
Religious faith didn’t bind the kibbutzniks to Israel. They typically were confident in their secularism—happily eating bread with matzo on Passover while denying the existence of God. But I didn’t know enough about the religion to rebel against it. After leaving the kibbutz I joined a yeshiva, or center for Talmudic studies.
My doubts about God’s existence didn’t surprise or disappoint my rabbi. “I don’t believe in the god you don’t believe in either,” he said and explained that my limited language for faith gave me a shallow image of God, which he also rejected. “You’re Jewish, Joshua. You can worry about God later. At your age, you should be learning Talmud.”
I studied and eventually learned that technically I was not Jewish. But no one asked, and I didn’t volunteer the information.
The year ended, and soon I was at Wesleyan. On the first night the university president spoke to new students and their families about the importance of challenging tradition. For dinner they served lobster, which isn’t kosher. I filled my plate with pasta salad—but my dad couldn’t turn down a good crustacean.
For so many Jews I met at Wesleyan, Israel was a problem and Judaism an afterthought. The dissonance between my inner world and theirs made me miss Israel even more, and after two years I returned and studied more Talmud. This time I told my rabbis that my mother was not Jewish. They encouraged me to convert formally, but I resisted—too Jewish to convert and too Jewish not to.
Eventually I converted. Through studying Talmud, I learned to appreciate the subtleties of faith, the depth of Jewish spiritual practice, and the possibility of an encounter with God in the act of study itself. Twenty-five years later, I teach Talmud for a living and have eight children who speak Judaism as their first language.
Last year I took my teenage daughter on a trip to visit family in the U.S. A woman at the airport noticed her modest dress and asked if she was Amish, embarrassing my daughter. I told her to be proud, that Americans respect people who keep their traditions. “It isn’t what Americans think that embarrasses me,” she replied. “I just don’t know why we have to be so different from everyone else. Why can’t we just be people?”
Jewish law is demanding. When I struggled with Judaism’s exclusivity and claims to chosenness, I immersed myself in the Talmud’s complexity and tried to shield my children from my own contradictions. But now my daughter was as confused as I had been at her age. It had never occurred to me that I was creating a conflict, too.
“I have lots of questions, dad.” She asked what to do.
“You’re Jewish,” I said. “Maybe we should start learning some Talmud together.”
Mr. Weisberg is a rabbi and educator at Nishmat in Jerusalem.
Appeared in the April 19, 2019, print edition.
Submitted by Jerry Weissman